By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Last month, the Environmental Working Group came out with a study showing that sugary cereals marketed to children were, well, really sugary.

"Fat Tony," created by artist Ron English. (FYI, Sugar Frosted Flakes don't contain fat, but they are 37 percent sugar by weight.)

Many of them were composed of more than half sugar, based on their weight. EWG’s review of 84 cereals found that Kellogg’s Honey Smacks was 56 percent sugar, by weight. One half cup of Smacks contains more of the sweet stuff than a Twinkie.

“Most parents say no to dessert for breakfast, but many children’s cereals have just as much sugar as a dessert – or more,” the EWG report crowed. It had a field day chomping through the details: One cup of 44 of the cereals studied had more sugar than three Chips Ahoy Chocolate Chip cookies; a typical batch of sugar cookies packs in one cup of sugar, and so does one 15 oz. box of Post’s Golden Crisp cereal .

It also highlighted how the problem has worsened since back in the day when people ate plain old Rice Chex (7 percent sugar) and Cheerios (3.6 percent sugar). Those two cereals are righteously healthy compared with their modern-day mutations, Honey Nut Chex (28 percent sugar) and Apple Cinnamon Cheerios (33 percent sugar).

This is not a new problem. Nutrition groups have been battling over cereal and kids’ health for a couple decades, though a good portion of the public seems to have settled the debate by continuing to buy the increasingly unhealthy concoctions.

Whether it’s the pretty boxes, the marketing tied to children’s shows, the cravings we all have for sugar or weak-kneed parents, these cereals have survived through thick and thin. Make that thin and thick, considering today’s childhood obesity rate of nearly 20 percent, with about one-third of children overweight or obese.

But sugar, you say, isn’t fat. That’s true, fat is what the body converts sugar into when it’s getting walloped with sweets. Sugar, fat, overeating. It all adds up.

Ready for the good news? Navigate that cereal aisle with a fresh resolve to do the right thing by your kids and you’ll find nutritious alternatives. We refer you now to a project known as “Cereal Facts” that has analyzed the nutritional value of commonly found cereals (you don’t even have dive into bulk bins for honey-sweetened granola, though we wouldn’t discourage it).

Tops of the nutrition list.

Cereal Facts, a project conceived by the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University and supported by foundations (therefore run by people who aren’t trying to sell anything), has come up with a list of most nutritious cereals and scored them on a 100-point scale, with anything over 60 considered to have “ very good nutritional value”. Here it is, with each cereal followed by its rating:

1 — Post – Shredded Wheat – Original (82)

2 — Post – Shredded Wheat – Spoon Size Original (82)

3 — Barbara’s Bakery – Shredded Wheat (82)

4 — Kashi – Puffs – 7 Whole Grains Puffs (82)

5 — Post – Shredded Wheat – Spoon Size Wheat ‘n Bran (82)

6 — Kellogg – Mini-Wheats – Unfrosted/ Bite Size (82)

7 — Uncle Sam – Uncle Sam (78)

8 — General Mills – Fiber One – Original (bran) (78)

9 — Kashi – Shredded Wheat – Autumn Wheat (78)

10 — Nature’s Path – Synergy 8 Whole Grains (78)

You can look up your own favorite cereals on the Cereal Facts website. I found one of my favorites, Grape Nuts, rated a 70, not exactly bragging territory, but still on the positive side of the fence.

I wanted to see how far another one-time favorite, Frosted Mini-Wheats, would drag me down and was pleasantly surprised to find this version of lightly sweetened cereal rates a 74 (whew!), seemingly because its high fiber content muscles in to raise its score.

Of course, I don’t buy those brands anymore, because I prefer the organic versions that I can find made by other brands, such as Barbara’s or Cascadian Farms.

Cap'n Crunch Berries has "berries" that go crunch, and also is 45 percent sugar and a bonus, blue food dye.

But while Barbara’s cereals checked out with good scores. A couple of Cascadian’s tasty granolas turned out to be loaded with sugar, ranking only in the 50s. Watch that sugar on the label.

Here, by the way, are the worst scoring cereals at Cereal Facts:

1 — Quaker – Cap’n Crunch – w/ Crunch berries (30)

2 — Kellogg – Corn Pops (or Pops) – Chocolate Peanut Butter (30)

3 — Kellogg – Special K – Chocolatey Delight (32)

4 — Belgo & Bellas – YogActive Junior – Chocolatey Pillows (32) (Chocolatey pillows?)

5 —Kellogg – Special K – Blueberry (32)

6 — General Mills – Reese’s Puffs (34)

7 — Kellogg – Cocoa Krispies – Choconilla (34)

8 — Belgo & Bellas – YogActive – Yogurt and Strawberries (36)

9 — General Mills – Golden Grahams (36)

10 — General Mills – Cinnamon Toast Crunch – Regular (36)

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